By Todd Ceisner
Last week, Casey Ashley found himself sitting in a tree stand somewhere in South Carolina, waiting for the right opportunity to present itself on an unsuspecting deer. It was also somewhat of a therapeutic exercise for the 6-year veteran of the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Like many of his peers, Ashley uses hunting as a way to unwind after a grueling season on the road and water.
Of course, he’d rather be poking around Grand Lake in Oklahoma, preparing for the Bassmaster Classic before it goes off limits Dec. 10. His 57th-place finish in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) points this season represented the worst showing in his 6 years of Elite Series competition and kept him from qualifying for his fifth Classic. For now, hunting will have to do for the 28-year-old from Donalds, S.C., after a season that lacked for high points.
“Last year’s done,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do to change it. I’ve been fishing around home so it’s not like I’ve quit or anything. Every year, whether I have a good year or not, it’s best to take some time and if you don’t take a break, eventually you’re going to get burned out. That’s what deer hunting’s for. It clears your mind.”
‘Nothing Came Together’
Just last year, Ashley collected his second Elite Series victory (Lake Murray) and placed 7th in points, which earned him a trip to the All-Star Championship (he made the semifinals) and Toyota Texas Bass Classic. A key element to his 2011 success was a strong start in Florida, logging an 18th (Harris Chain) and a 10th (St. Johns River) to gain some early momentum.
The 2012 campaign also started in the Sunshine State, but he couldn’t duplicate his feat from the previous year. He took a check at the St. Johns (48th), but struggled at Lake Okeechobee, finishing a season-worst 77th.
“At Okeechobee, where I bombed, I found the fish in practice and I was fishing in an area where everybody was catching them, but all I could catch was 2-pounders,” he said. “I was doing the same thing, flipping the same bait to the same reeds and everything. It was just one of those deals that was frustrating.”
Two more middle-of-the-pack showings followed at Bull Shoals Lake and Douglas Lake before he bagged his 12th career Top-10 with a 9th-place finish at Toledo Bend in June. Was this the turning point he was looking for to make a second-half charge up the standings?
“I hoped it would, considering how the season was going,” he said. “To be honest, that was the tournament I was most scared of because I am not an offshore fisherman. When you got into an event like that and things work out in practice and come out with a Top-10 finish, it gives you a boost of energy in the middle of the year. Then it was right back to the same old same old.”
He ended the year with three more finishes in the 50s and finished the season with five results between 44th and 59th.
“There’s not a thing you can change about it,” he said. “You can sit down and beat yourself up over it, but it’s not going to change anything.
“I didn’t fish any different this year. I made the decisions that I always make on the water. Nothing came together. That’s just the way the year was. I can go back to almost every tournament and give you a scenario that would’ve went one way or another that would’ve been the difference between me making the Top 20 rather than not making a check. That’s just the way it goes. It was just one of those years. You can’t beat the dead horse any way you want to, if it’s not your time, it’s not your time.”
Guntersville A Goal
Ashley spent the entire month of October unwinding with friends at a beach house along the South Carolina coast, taking a break from all things bass fishing.
“We just fish and chill and hang,” he said. “It’s where I go to unwind. We do a lot of red fishing and shrimping – just living the salt life for a while. It’s something different. I just sit back with no worries and not think about the bass fishing world for a while.”
After the recent announcement that the 2014 Classic will be held at Lake Guntersville, Ashley will go into 2013 with qualifying for that event at the top of his to-do list.
“I definitely want to be there,” he said. “I’ve never been on Guntersville in the early spring. I’ve heard a lot about it – it’s got to be good. It’s one of the rare fisheries we’ve got around the Southeast or in the nation. I definitely want to be there and have a shot at it. You can’t win it if you’re not in it.”
To give himself better odds at qualifying, he’s leaning toward fishing the full Southern Open schedule (he only fished two of them this year). Other than that, he doesn’t anticipate making sweeping changes to how he approaches tournaments or how he thinks on the water.
“I’m not going to change much,” he said. “I’m pretty comfortable in what I do even though it doesn’t show by my finishes. Every tournament, I was on fish. I had the chances during the tournament so I don’t think there’s a need to really change anything.
I’m an old-school fisherman. I’m the biggest believer in do what you do and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I know it kind of looks like it on paper, but it ain’t broke. I’m not fixing anything yet.”
> There haven’t been any new developments on the music front for Ashley. “There’s a lot up in the air, but nothing new,” he said. “That’s a tough, tough deal to crack into, especially if you don’t do it full-time. I’m definitely not throwing away a career I’ve already got started to go try another one.”
> His previous worst finish in AOY points was 46th in 2010.